Tuesday, September 29

Killing time

‘Ladies fashion boots, size 5½; Piano tuition; Ford Ranger, 57 plate, MOT/FSH; Experienced massage therapist; Mature lady available for babysitting; Fully qualified taxation specialist; Handyman for gardening and general maintenance.’

I’m not sure postcards in a newsagent’s window are the failsafe guide to an area but I always read them. Mrs G’s monthly visit to Teasy-Weasy’s left me with a couple of hours to kill and I’ve never much cared for coal-hole covers. People-watching works, providing there’s people on the go. There are a couple of art galleries and several businesses selling ‘Antiques & Curios’. Lots of Georgian architecture to admire, much of it with poorly maintained sash windows (says smug man who’s just finished his painting). The area is awash with scaffolder’s trucks and builder’s skips; gentrification continues apace. No Cereal cafe but an artisan baker and a very good butcher. Not sure about the sweet shop. Jars of sour apple cubes and Welsh mint humbugs look a bit sad when displayed behind dirty windows amid hessian sacking and cobwebs. It could explain the absence of children and young mothers with prams.

Monday, September 28

Antidote to grey

If it’s grey in South Hams there’s often the chance of sun elsewhere. So we fired up the motor and set off for Bude on the north coast: twenty degrees of sunshine, a paddle in the sea – ice cream all round. Relived old times as we walked the cliffs to Widemouth Bay and back. Ate another ice cream. Sat on a bench and soaked up the sun.

There's always a song in it

     Harbour In Grey, David Pearce
I appreciate the supermoon lunar eclipse was a once in thirty years phenomenon but I couldn’t be arsed getting out of bed. Other curiosities will doubtless appear and at a more convenient time. When I did rise this morning there was nothing to be seen as a mist had descended – the more common event this time of year. In the morning I awake, my arms my legs my body aches, the sky outside is wet and grey… Shades of Madness.

Saturday, September 26

Have just ordered Christmas cards

A day of horse racing, footy and rugby; and yes, barbecue. Unbelievably the sun has beamed down all day: it would have been criminal not to take advantage. Our final kebab of the year? Probably. I could have used a beer to wash it down but September is an alcohol-free month. Last season’s dry months were October and January, bookending the traditional festive celebrations. Unfortunately our 2015 knees-up begins a month earlier – additional commitments, hence the dry September. There was a time yuletide celebrations lasted barely seven days; it’s amazing how you can spin it out.

North-South divide

With the exception of Manchester, the north is being cut adrift in English football, says Gary Neville. If you are currently listening to the wireless commentary from White Hart Lane, even Manchester appears suspect.

Brickies (and Soldiers)

Almost casually yet inexorably, you realise the nearby town is growing. Surrounding fields are cleared and internal gaps filled. Thanks to government support, low interest rates and burgeoning demand, house builders – as the price of new builds testify – are coining it. Two-bed starter homes, the sort of thing my parents’ generation paid four-hundred pounds for – that in the 70s cost ten grand or so, are priced at well over two-hundred thousand. I appreciate everything is relative, but even so… Welcoming more waifs and strays from across the Mediterranean isn’t going to help. Chances are it will be bricklayers (and soldiers) we need in the future, not more mini-cab drivers.

Back to the future

With more than 50% of the British and French public now in favour of sending ground troops to Syria, and Jeremy Corbyn promising to debate Trident at the conference, the ‘Back to the 70s’ narrative continues to gain traction. Niall Ferguson has written an opinion piece in today’s paper suggesting the west has blown its post-cold war peace dividend and that we need to return to relearning the arts of grand strategy and war. The Koran, he believes, has replaced Das Kapital – and the world’s short peace is ending. What comes around goes around, as we like to say…Mrs G. is dusting off her beads and Afghan coat.

Manly accoutrements - boy's toys and scars

In Norway we have an expression: that a man should say it with firewood rather than flowers. Writer Lars Mytting owns two wood stoves, a 2001 Triumph Bonneville, a 1970 XJ6, a Land Rover and a Cogswell Harrison 1903 shotgun for hunting ducks. Scars acquired chopping wood, says Lars, are not just acceptable, but desirable.

Here at the homestead there’s plenty of chopped wood, and yes, the odd scar. ...It is a typical Saturday morning: riders exercising their mounts, farmers hedge-cutting, and the hunt – lots of hounds. Brian Matthew and his Sound of the Sixties.

Thursday, September 24

The SNP have fun at Westminster

Nice work if you can get it. I bet the Holyrood crowd will feel a little miffed at missing out on the fun. It must be difficult to party inside the Auld Reekie bubble; down in The Smoke, however, you are out of sight and out of mind – literally as well as figuratively.

The latest mis-selling scandal?

Elderly people should be given emotional support to encourage them to downsize, say the Institute of Chartered Surveyors. Yes, and we know where this one leads. Always treat initiatives from the ICS, Estate Agents or Solicitors with a degree of suspicion: it usually means they’re on the make. Whilst it’s true a significant number of people are keen to downsize, when they investigate they discover it results in exchanging their home for a property one quarter the size but with little left over in the way of increased savings. A smaller modern home will be cheaper to run, certainly, but it is unlikely to compensate for what you are giving up. I’m with Ella Whelan: go build your own homes (but not near me). Lord Best also needs to appreciate that looking for a new home is anything but exciting or fun. I’d rather spend time picking chicken shit from the floor of the coop.

I don't doubt it will happen, one day

Meat should be treated like tobacco with a public campaign to stop people eating it. Which leads me wistfully recalling all those cigarettes I once smoked – graduating over the years from Park Drive to Gauloises. So I’ve no doubt vegan shadow farming minister Kerry McCarthy will win out in due course, but not in my lifetime. Pure coincidence I have just returned from my neighbour’s with a substantial part of the bullock he recently slaughtered. Given there are five beef producers within a mile of the homestead I can almost guarantee McCarthy’s effigy will be adorning local pyres come November 5th.

Meanwhile...Mrs G’s ongoing cookathon continues this week with wild boar (Mon), veal (Tue) and gammon (Wed/Thu).

What about the workers!

According to Prof Goodheart they may yet have their day in the sun.

Wednesday, September 23

Autumn equinox

As the days shorten and crisp cotton sheets give way to the seduction of brushed cotton flannelette I find it increasingly difficult to drag myself out of bed. Neighbours tip-toe past at five-thirty en route to their place of employment…cows to milk, children to educate and babies to deliver. An hour later I’m still prone and contemplating whether the autumn equinox is a cornflakes or porridge day. ... Out on the moor at eight: no druids, just the usual bovine faces.

Thanks to a bout of angina fifteen years ago I qualify for an annual flu jab. Not wishing to piss off the GP when he calls, this morning I attended the surgery. Of course it’s a trap, to draw you in so he can tick various boxes. Not just a flu jab but the offer of pneumococcal too. Then following a perfunctory blood pressure check (120/80) someone decides Gudgeon hasn’t had his cholesterol tested recently, and another needle magically appears. It doesn’t go unnoticed the practice nurses lump everyone together in these mass screenings, whether aged sixty or one hundred and six. They speak slowly and deliberately as if we are all simple minded. Truth is they are just being polite, and politeness is in short supply these days. The scary part comes when nursey asks me to complete an Alzheimer test. Me, Alzheimer’s? It has never crossed my mind. All of a sudden I’m resitting my 11 Plus, and I panic. What if I fail? Will I be classified as gaga? Will it confirm I actually am gaga? … Panic over I leave the surgery, jump into the motor and roar off up the hill. Automatically eight speakers burst into life, taking over where it had left off, track 3 of Keith Richards’ Crosseyed Heart: Amnesia!

Tuesday, September 22


Talking of my time in the flea pit … Born a month apart I thought it would be interesting to read how those formative years appeared through a woman’s eyes. It seems I was let off lightly in comparison, and in fact had led a rather dull, monastic life. Following Hynde’s adventures it is hard to believe the girl is still functioning – it must be the vegetarian thing. All said, however, the memoir is a one-sitting read.

Monday, September 21

Stick with Lee Child

I never did comment on the last James Bond novel, Trigger Mortis. Unfortunately for me I’d read a lot of good stuff in recent weeks and, though verging on the sacrilegious to criticise Anthony Horowitz, his book was a major disappointment. It’s not that he caught the Daniel Craig bug for reinventing Bond as a more politically correct agent, with a gay friend and wimpy conscience, that he gives up his bed and sleeps on the sofa when the girl says no, that the two women he fancies run off in a lesbian tryst…it’s the yawn-inducing pedestrian nature of the tale. 007 becomes John Nettles’ racy cousin rather than the misogynistic cold-hearted bastard we’ve come to love. Trigger Mortis is akin to reading an old Dick Francis novel, and they don’t travel particularly well. If you must, wait for the paperback. As with the film franchise I guess we will continue to see our hero reinterpreted and it won’t be a pretty sight. I should have stuck with Lee Child.

Sunday, September 20

A different place and time

Sunday lunch featured a slab of venison that could have graced the table of King John, the retailer not so much a Robin Hood as the tailgate of a pick-up. Deer meat is much underrated, though they tell me it is growing in popularity. Later, in an effort to walk off the meal, I set out across the moor. Parties of young women were out for the day from schools their minibuses advertised as ‘Boarding or Day.’ I must admit we are of a sort in this part of the world. In the nine years I’ve lived here I can’t recall a single black face wearing hiking boots, riding a horse or mountain bike, or paddling a kayak. Occasionally there’s a Bob Marley tribute band playing at one of the bars in town but that’s as far as it goes. I often contrast our mono-cultural environment with those early days in London. When I first arrived in the 70s my billet was a flea pit on the border of Lewisham and New Cross. During that first week it appeared I was the only white guy on the street. It was only when visiting the local pub other palefaces appeared, every one of which was Irish. Customers either drank dark rum or whiskey. As the flea pit absorbed the lion’s share of my wages I nursed half-pints of beer in much the same way young mothers now while away mornings in Starbucks with a single low-fat latte. Grim days…and then Margaret Thatcher made her entrance.

Saturday, September 19

Line of the day

An aside to Susie Boyt from John Lahr, The New Yorker magazine’s theatre critic. ‘Not long ago a young in-house fact-checker asked me who Marlon Brando was. People just don’t know things like that.’

You can't eat it all

The atmosphere of Friday markets is dictated by music – buskers. Yesterday is was panpipes from a duo of Peruvian (Bolivian?) musicians. Given the Green Party had set out their stall (local election in the offing) the choice of minstrels seemed apt. Stopped by the barbers for my usual buzz cut and round of gossip. Excellent food at the homestead this week: braised skirt, flavoured with anchovies, onion and parsley; poached chicken and seasonal veg; Iberian ham and broad beans, griddled strips of courgette covered in creamy mozzarella cheese; sirloin steak and grilled heritage tomatoes; Irish stew (mutton chops); hake with green sauce. Those couple of pounds I gained last winter are proving difficult to shift.

Friday, September 18

Piss-ups and breweries

“A lot of false information is circulating about the options to obtain asylum in Germany, which we cannot leave unchallenged” says German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. You have to feel for the eastern European countries trampled underfoot. Merkel’s open invitation recalls Blair’s fatuous predictions about the limited numbers of Poles and others that would come to Britain following expansion of the European Union. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing, however, we are where we are. I think everyone can agree it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate Syrians from Afghans, Iraqis, Iranians, etc. You take one you take all: try deporting tens of thousands already inside Europe to camps across North Africa. It ain’t gonna happen. If Germany wanted to cherry-pick young educated Syrians from the refugee/migrant diaspora they should have sent a fleet of passenger vessels to Greece and Turkey and processed them there instead of trashing their neighbours’ countryside. The assumption appears to be that an eventual majority vote will compel all twenty-eight European Union countries to accept a proportionate share of Syrian nationals. But that’s assuming Germany can blackmail/bully enough countries into securing a majority vote, and that the refugees/migrants who lose out in the resultant resettlement lottery accept their fate. And it still doesn’t address the non-Syrians among us. Oh, to be a fly on the wall at the next European Union meeting.

Abolish cash and compel people to spend

Negative interest rates and abolition of cash maybe necessary in next recession, says BoE Chief Economist. Good luck with that one chummy.

Not just in front of Keith Richards

There are few things in life that make you feel more pathetic than smoking an e-cigarette in front of Keith Richards. The lad’s hardly a role model for the younger generation. But then who would you choose to emulate, Keith Richards or that sad sort who had it away with Dianne Abbott.

Britain: a marriage of convenience

Fraser Nelson is back on his hobby horse. The Union has always been a marriage of convenience rather than one made in heaven, an accommodation that suits both sides in that an SNP government in Scotland guarantees Tory hegemony in England, and vice versa. Not unnaturally in an era of globalisation, national identity has become both a dividing line and rallying call for British politics.

Thursday, September 17

What the ...?

German interior minister Thomas de Maizière is planning huge cuts to Germany’s benefits for asylum seekers in a new fast-tracked bill, a copy of which was leaked to the news agency AFP on Thursday. The draft bill, dated Monday, would see refugees who have travelled to Germany via other EU countries - and should therefore be under their jurisdiction, according to the Dublin rules - refused the automatic benefits allowed under Germany’s asylum seeker law. They will only be given a travel ticket and provisions, the agency said. In addition, refugees who cannot be deported because they don’t have passports and refuse to give information on their country of origin will be refused the right to work and will lose social benefits…???

Merkel began this whole sorry debacle by promising to take hundreds of thousands of migrants/refugees per year. She has now closed the German border, and if I interpret this latest report correctly, is threatening to send everyone back to Hungary and Greece or leave them on the streets without a bean?

Wednesday, September 16

A world away

By the time I’d chopped firewood, undertaken an hour’s bat hunting (think I’ve found the access point), cleared the past week’s paperwork, watched PMQs and eaten lunch, it was time for a trot across the moor – blow the cobwebs away. Although the sky appears grim, provided you are suitably attired it’s quite pleasant. Wimp that I am, this morning the heating was switched on. Ever the optimist, however, I’ve yet to consign my barbecue to the barn. There are a handful of swallows remaining but mainly it’s buzzards and crows and a Chinook. The usual livestock of course, otherwise people free. Am making the most of the solitude before Cameron caves to the inevitable and opens the door. A number of my more happy-clappy neighbours appear wildly enthusiastic at the prospect, though I suspect their preference is for attractive semi-westernised mothers and their cuddly babies rather than rock-throwing hoodlums.
...I remain a regular Mister Tom.

For want of a tin of Cherry Blossom

It seems much ado about nothing, the brouhaha regarding Jeremy Corbyn’s appearance and behaviour at yesterday’s commemoration ceremony. However a while back I attended the funeral of an uncle. He was a decorated WW2 veteran, at Dunkirk and all the way through to ’46. To get into the church I had to pass through an avenue of veterans, a canopy of crossed standards. And you were conscious that each member of the honour guard was inspecting your dress, the shine on your shoes, to assure himself you were turned out correctly and paying proper respect to an old comrade. As Michael Foot discovered: this sort of stuff is important to people.

Tuesday, September 15

He’s right: who reads this depressing crap?

Michael Wood the chief judge for the Man Booker Prize has pleaded for authors to get a life, after slogging his way through some ‘pretty grim’ stories for the £50,000 prize. Authors, he said, were increasingly fascinated by stories about child abuse, amputations, murder, dementia, breast cancer and the trials of illegal immigrants. A seemingly bemused Professor Wood said ‘What’s quite interesting is to try to work out how the reader can have such pleasure in books where such terrible stuff happens.’

Reaching for the dungarees and clogs

You realise you are living in a remote rural position when the local community hall begins advertising classes in Appalachian dancing. If it morphs into snake handling and banjo playing I’ll begin to worry.

It's turning cold, I need comfort food

Yesterday’s blow didn’t quite live up to the forecast. Today, however, there’s a noticeable chill, a nod to the coming winter. Needless to say the rain continues to fall.

Britain’s poor diet is more deadly than smoking, says the headline. Last week it was booze, before that butter and streaky bacon, a month from now it will be something else. I suppose they are right to keep nudging us, although for Gudgeon –  at least in healthy-eating terms – this is about as good as it gets. Ok I eat too much meat but I’m way past the five-a-day. I breakfast on Shredded Wheat and drink in excess of a pinta milk a day. You know my feelings on this subject: we are either born with a fifty-year-old body or one designed to last. Paragons die relatively young whilst others existing on kebabs and vodka stumble on another twenty-five years. It’s a game of chance. Of course the downsides for UK Plc of the latter is the half-million smackeroos each miscreant costs the health service. Of one thing I’m certain: taxing bottles of Vimto is not a panacea.

You can stick your Ferraris

Eat your heart out, Chris Evans.

Monday, September 14

What I know about economics you could write on the back of a box of Swan Vesta

Frank Field wonders if George Osborne knows what he’s doing. Far be it for me to question the wisdom of raising the minimum wage, especially if it removes a need for income support. However I’m not so sure working tax credits remains the better route, at least as far as UK Plc is concerned. Wages have stagnated since Blair and Brown opened the door to immigration, in part a response to Industry bitching about the potential for increased labour costs. The fear now, with an enhanced ‘living wage’, must be the knock-on effect of differentials. If the lad sweeping the factory floor is suddenly earning X, the girls on the machines will demand X x 2 and the foreman X x 4: and all of a sudden Widgets R-Us becomes uncompetitive – and £30 billion of income support for the lowest paid appears small change in terms of maintaining a ceiling on overall labour costs. I have no idea if my premise is correct…just musing.

Ganesh on a wind up

If David Cameron showed up to parliament in his Bullingdon Club tailcoat to announce the sale of Great Ormond Street children’s hospital to a consortium led by ExxonMobil, his Conservatives would still be competitive against Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour at the next election.

Line of the day

"It's nearly decisive." Remark from 5 Live commentary on the West Ham v Newcastle match.

Soddin Pensioners

Pensioner Bond demand forces NS&I to cut Direct Isa rate, hitting 400,000 savers.

Eleven months and counting.

Differing routes to the top

Whilst the Tories source their leaders from Eton College, Labour appears to rely on the sons of bus drivers, with both Sadiq Khan (Candidate for London Mayor) and John McDonnell (Shadow Chancellor) to the fore.

If only I had a penny for every time I'd boarded this bus at the rear of the ABC cinema.

So much wind and hot air

Nothing gets the adrenaline moving faster than two hours at the top of an extended ladder in a strong westerly. I should have cleaned the gutters and unblocked downpipes – addressed loose roof tiles, prior to the first gales of the season, but it was question of priorities. That and my dilatory behaviour during August. Have laid out the storm boards in readiness. Came inside for a coffee break and to listen to Corbynomics commentators on Sky News. It appears the only thing standing in the way of El Dorado is the BoE’s reluctance to print more magic money, and for the government to steal privatise everything that isn’t nailed down. Good luck with those.

I’ve just listened to Dennis Skinner on the wireless. The guy’s marvellous. A total nutjob, but marvellous.

Sunday, September 13

Already running out of currywurst

Fingers crossed, that’s the last I’ll see of Trade Gloss for a while. And just in time, given tonight the rain arrived – proverbial buckets of the stuff. Fortunately I’m tucked up in the homestead beside a burning stove, and not sleeping on the concourse of Munich Station. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free... What part of ‘Are you crazy’ did Frau Merkel not understand? Seems the good lady’s plan to save the world is floundering after barely one week.

Michael Foot: remake or sequel?

They say there’s nowt as queer as folk. But electing Jeremy Corbyn? Sheesh. At least he’ll enliven the political scene; not so much clear blue water as an ocean apart. A gift for the media. Careful what you wish for, however: someone has described the old duffer as a woodwork teacher by day; at night a fearless vampire hunter. Many of us have been here before, back in the 70s and 80s. It will be a bumpy ride but we know how it ends. At least I hope we do. A reminder yet again that if you have something to sell, people will buy it.

Friday, September 11

Health scare

Nothing scares the bejesus out of you more than your first piss of the day after a supper of steamed beetroot.

Wednesday, September 9

Painting therapy

Not much time for blogs as I’m preparing the homestead for winter – exterior woodwork top of the list. Lots of Cuprinol hardener/filler to repair the wet rot, and multiple applications of gloss paint to protect against southwesterlies. I appear to be in a race with two weather fronts.

Less trouble with slugs this year thanks to a cohort of toads that patrol the yard. Our final brood of swallows has hatched and are being fed. ...The lane below is all grey partridge and rolling waves of tinkling goldfinch. Haven’t seen much in the way of pheasants, however the guns are blazing both sides of the hedge.

Monday, September 7

Prioritising virtue

If only I was as virtuous as my German opposite number. Perhaps I should accentuate my moral signalling by buying my Big Issue from that girl in the headscarf instead of the white guy with the Staffie? Do I buy from both and cut out the lad who sells The War Cry?

Saturday, September 5

Hangin' out with the cool crowd

This morning we dropped by Bovey Tracey for the Nourish Festival. Listened to a couple of numbers from jazz singer Annika Skoogh, before returning home with a brace of partridge and sack of wild rabbits – the season opened Tuesday.

The bats have decided to vacate the loft and sleep downstairs this week, turning up in whichever room takes their fancy. I’m told bats are like gifted jazz musicians. Not sure about the foul smells.

Friday, September 4

Who'd have thunk it?

A fair part of Gudgeon’s life has been spent coughing and sneezing my way across five of the seven continents, existing on a diet of antihistamines and decongestant tablets. Until, that is, I moved to the homestead. I still get hit by tree pollen at certain times of the year, but compared to the old days…

Hairdressers and florists

…will have to work for 150 years to put down a deposit on a house. I suspect not. They are likely married to a plumber or sparky, both richer than Croesus.

Oh for these mornings amongst the shadows of an early-morning sun, the moon still shining overhead. A raucous tiding of magpies and what that portends? Even in paradise you watch your back.

Thursday, September 3

Partial result

Today I have managed to fix both the tractor’s engine and the gas boiler. Result! Would that I could sort this bloody computer.

Line of the day

“I was a toad on a wet rock. A snake was looking at the back of my neck.” Philip Marlowe, Farwell, My Lovely.

Wednesday, September 2

The jury is still out

What to make of those pictures from Budapest railway station, Calais, Rhodes. Most every correspondent I’ve listened to today prefaced his/her report with an assertion that it would take a heart of stone, blah-blah-blah. I get their drift. Unfortunately my jaundiced view of television news correspondents is heavily influenced by memories of GlobeLink News’ Damien Day, not least that trick of pinching the flesh of ragged urchins to elicit viewer sympathy. It hasn’t gone unnoticed the average Syrian male appears to have a child surgically attached to his arm, said bambino ritually waved aloft like a football rattle whenever the press hove into view.

Deserted for a warmer climate, almost

Limited to creeping thistle and a single lavender bush, the yard’s insects are making the most of the sun’s return. A surprising array of butterflies, including painted ladies, peacocks, speckled woods and fritillaries of every shape and size. The pond is still attracting damselflies and golden-ringed dragonflies. I was about to confirm that our swallows, alas, had departed for South Africa; but a pair remain in the old wood shed, incubating a final batch.

Tuesday, September 1

I won’t take a back seat

Says Nigel Farage. Quite right, too: the proposed referendum is Ukip’s raison d'être. Good to hear the lad on the wireless this morning, and on form. I have no idea which way I will jump next October, but the more there are up on stage arguing the case, the better informed I will be.

Nat King Cole

You can guess what happened: as soon as the revellers departed the sun came out and the temperature increased three degrees. A muster of peafowl appeared and began playing tag with the ponies, although I’m not sure this was related. This morning the sky is clean and blue, the ridge a golden hue – our moon, absent for days, sits above full and bright. September arrives and the yard is already littered with autumn leaves – there’s a song there somewhere.